Corel tweaks Java strategy

The software company is adding a new twist to its Java strategy to make network computers more appealing to corporate users.

3 min read
Corel is adding a new twist to its Java strategy to make network computers--including its own--more appealing to corporate users, CEO Michael Cowpland said today.

The Canadian software company, which took over the WordPerfect business application suite from Novell in January 1996, has been an early and vocal proponent of Java in an effort to chip away at Microsoft's dominance of the desktop application market.

In a move that underlines users' reluctance to switch to an all-Java application base, Corel has developed its own application framework, code-named Remagen, that would allow Windows NT applications to run on any operating system with a Java virtual machine, including network computers.

"Corporate customers need to see a bridging strategy," said Paul Skillen, Corel vice president of engineering. "Remagen allows them to use our software and other's software without upgrading."

The emphasis on Remagen as a cross-platform application solution doesn't mean the company is backing away from Java, according to Cowpland.

"We don't plan to expand overall R&D expenditures, but the effort we're putting behind Java is three times as much as when we started," he said. Of the company's $80 million (Canadian) R&D budget, "we're heading toward a 50-50 split between Java and conventional Windows development."

Remagen will act as a software "glue" to let any Windows NT application run on any system--NC or not--with a Java virtual machine. The company will add Remagen to its own WordPerfect application suite by December and will look to license the technology to companies that customize applications for corporate buyers.

"We can approach Microsoft Office customers and let them run MS Office on thin clients," Cowpland said.

For platforms such as Windows 3.1 which have encountered Java performance problems, Corel will write Remagen in native code, not Java.

"Java is extremely important as a strategic technology," Skillen said. "In some cases we're going to use Java; in some cases we're not."

Corel also said today that it is renaming the long-awaited Office for Java, a pure Java version of its business applications. Delayed again until early next year, it will now be called Corel Central, not to be confused with the PIM-browser-email combination found in the latest non-Java WordPerfect software suite.

Led by Sun Microsystems, Oracle, and IBM, an alliance of companies has touted the network computer as a low-cost alternative to PCs. NC applications are stored on a server and run on the NC's "thin client" only when used, a configuration that proponents say is much cheaper and easier to administer than regular PCs.

Corel representatives compared Remagen, a software layer that would let PC appilcations run on top of an NC's Java-enhanced operating system, to Citrix's Winframe. Winframe is also a software layer that allows server-based PC apps to run on "dumb terminals"--for example, the hard disk-less machines that bank tellers use to access information from a central server. The difference is that Remagen translates the NT application code to Java class libraries and takes up less network bandwidth, according to Skillen.

To seed the market for its Java and non-Java applications, software maker Corel has spun out a hardware company, Corel Computer, to produce a network computer with built-in videoconferencing features. The Video NC is due to ship by December for about $700, Corel Computer president Eid Eid said today.